The Healthiest New Year's Resolutions

The caffeine-free, fully cleansed, take-your-nap, buff-as-hell guide to a whole new you.

    Photo: Inga Hendrickson

FIT LIT: Cutting-Edge News from the Latest Wellness Books

The Book: The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance (Third Edition), by Dr. Louise Burke and Greg Cox (Allen & Unwin, $25)

THE SELL: Knowing the nutritional requirements of your sport will maximize performance.
BURKE AND COX SAY: "This third edition transforms science into practice ... taking a real-life look at the special nutritional needs of various sports."
THE TAKEAWAY:
Cyclists: Caffeine is a legal performance-enhancing drug. When you feel fatigued training, drink a small dose (eight ounces—a small cup of coffee).
Runners: Pre-event meals are vital. For early-morning races, a light meal is fine. A couple of pieces of toast and an energy drink work well.
Triathletes: It's all about variety. Avoid pinning "good" or "bad" labels on food. Low-fat ice cream with fresh fruit, for example, is fine for a snack.
Swimmers: You burn more calories than you realize. Pack in more energy content by adding layers and toppings to foods, like jam or syrup on toast or pancakes, and yogurt or fruit on cereal.

—MICHAEL WEBSTER

Research comes out every day with conflicting information on how to train, eat, and rest. Should you give up alcohol? Red meat? Or (God forbid) caffeine? Sleep more or less?

To find answers, we put seven Outside editors through a range of 30-day self-denial sufferfests that yielded surprising answers about what you need for total health. Let their pain be your guide.

SCRUBBED
Hypothesis: A cleanse will rid your body of toxins and boost your mood and energy
Time Commitment: 28 Days
Researcher: Christopher Keyes

One morning last January, I arrived at our weekly editorial meeting to discover that three colleagues had been seduced by a nutritional cult. "Have you tried the green smoothie?" I heard one of them exclaim. "It's amazing!" They were all following a 21-day cleanse outlined by New York cardiologist Alejandro Junger in his bestselling book Clean. Their enthusiasm, combined with the few aspects of the program I gleaned from their constant hallway banter—Gwyneth Paltrow endorsement, liquid meals—triggered my knee-jerk disdain for fad diets and New Year's resolutions. I started to refer to them as the Clean People.

Then one day, I asked the cult leader a few questions. She was three weeks in and had an undeniable glow. "I feel like I have the energy of a high schooler," she said. Damn. At 36, I'm a healthy guy who works out six days a week and eats plenty of veggies. But with two kids, a stressful job, and a chronic dependence on dessert and an evening glass of wine, I wake up every morning with a mild lower-back ache and can't even carry on a conversation with my two-year-old before I've had two cups of coffee. High school sounded a lot better. I purchased a copy of Clean.

As it turns out, my initial skepticism about cleanses wasn't completely off-base. For as long as they've been popular, cleanses have been derided by much of the medical establishment. Nutritionists warn that many are too low in calories to be considered a healthy lifestyle choice; some are even dangerous. Junger's program, however, is a lot saner. In the first few chapters of Clean, he unveils his thesis: We are a nation of bad eaters living in a chemical wonderland, and our bodies are inundated with toxins—pesticides, processed foods, medications, household cleaners, you name it. What's more, our microwaveable Western diet and workaholic lifestyles have compromised our bodies' natural detox systems. We eat foods that are hard to digest (wheat, nightshade vegetables, and dairy, among others) or that exhaust our intestinal flora, immune system, and adrenal glands (sugar, caffeine, and alcohol).

As a result, concludes Junger, most Americans are carrying toxins around like excess baggage, leading to inflammation—believed to be one of the leading causes of heart disease and cancer—and many other side effects, such as bad skin, low energy, thyroid problems, and depression. "Imagine you buy two plants and put them on the same windowsill," says Junger. "One of them you feed only water. The other you give coffee one day, maybe a little vodka the next—whatever you feel like. You know what will happen?"

Junger is a skilled evangelist. By the time he's made his case, even someone who thinks of himself as nominally healthy is ready to come to Jesus. Then he drops the hammer: for three weeks, he wants you to eliminate a host of foods from your diet and consume a liquid meal for breakfast and dinner (smoothies, juices, or soups; he provides all the recipes). Then, every night, allow 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, giving your body time to completely digest your food and begin the long-neglected business of shedding toxins. The sane part I alluded to? You can have a Junger-approved list of solid foods for lunch—including organic chicken, fish, and lamb—and regular snacks during the day (raw cashews, blueberries). It sounded easy.

In theory. A few days before I started, my wife read aloud from the "no" column. "No cheese, no wheat, no refined sugar, no coffee, no alcohol," she said, pausing to look at me after the last two. (She'd just had a baby, and was in no mood for continued deprivation.) She kept reading, but I tuned out, wondering instead where I'd stash some emergency bourbon and chocolate.

Week 1: Time to Eliminate
METRICS (each week I measured my five-foot-seven frame using a Tanita body-composition scale): 146 lbs, 15.1% body fat, 1625 basal metabolic rate, 22 metabolic age
THE PLAN: This is the optional pre-cleanse week. I still eat three solid meals, but eliminate foods on Junger's "no" list.
DAY ONE: My abruptly decaffeinated mind is a liability to my staff. I pad down office hallways with my head down and a distinct edge about me. A colleague drops by with an otherwise routine request. I snap at her. "You started the cleanse today, didn't you?" she says cheerily, laughing off my crankiness.
HOME: No sanctuary, either. Forgoing a glass of wine and ice cream after dinner is agony. Hunger gnaws at my stomach. In Clean, Junger explains that much of what we now recognize as hunger is an emotional state, not a physical reality. We eat to fill voids caused by boredom, sadness, or stress. I'd like to strangle Alejandro Junger. But there is a flip side. A few days in, I start to wake up feeling ... awake. My achy lower back, which I'd always attributed to tight hamstrings from too much running, has disappeared. I'd like to hug Alejandro Junger.

Week 2: The Real Work Begins
METRICS:
141 lbs, 14.8% body fat, 1575 BMR, 21 metabolic age
THE PLAN: Liquid breakfasts and dinners, solid foods only at lunch and snack time.
DAY ONE: For the first time in 30 years, instead of pouring equal parts sugar-glazed raisin bran and milk into a giant bowl, I pour a blenderful of blueberries, almond milk, cacao, and agave syrup into a glass. I down it. I'm still hungry, but ride it out. After a post-breakfast run, I feel satisfied—and infinitely sharper. The same feeling emerges after my first liquid dinner. It's still hard to watch my wife sip a glass of wine or eat a giant oatmeal cookie, but my old food cravings begin to subside and are replaced with surprising new ones.
MIDWEEK: My wife and I go out to dinner at a restaurant that specializes in salads. (I wasn't cheating; in recognition of the turbulence of real life, Junger allows you to occasionally stray from a liquid dinner if you replace it the same day with a liquid lunch.) I used to hate this place. Last time, I destroyed any semblance of a healthy salad under a bacon dressing and a fatty skirt steak. This time, when the waitress brings my seared tuna over salad greens, it looks like the most delicious food I've ever seen. I ask them to hold the red peppers and corn (two no's on Junger's list). Who am I?
FULL DISCLOSURE: I fall off the wagon on day 13, when a friend and I take our daughters camping. I diligently bring along a Clean-prescribed smoothie for dinner, but then said friend shoots me a what-the-hell-is-that look and cracks open a beer. By the end of the night, I've had three. I later call Junger to find out what kind of damage I've done. "Well," he says, sounding a little disappointed, "when you're cleaning your house, you don't stop to throw a bunch of lard around. But if it was only one night, it's no big deal."

Week 3: Getting Juiced
METRICS:
138 lbs, 14.3% body fat, 1525 BMR, 18 metabolic age
THE PLAN: Same as last week, but now I'm mixing in some Clean boosters: an omega-3 and a probiotic with breakfast, five minutes of meditation each night, and two tablespoons of olive oil before bed to help move food through my intestines.
TUESDAY MORNING: I'm admiring my new physique in the mirror. My wife walks in. "You look like a 12-year-old," she says. She's just being honest. Seventeen days in, my neck is scrawny-looking (and my metabolic age has dropped to 18). I've lost eight pounds. I start doing more push-ups. My days now seem Paleolithic, entirely consumed with gathering, cooking, and taking in calories. I take a trip to the office kitchen every morning, and instead of coffee, I fill up my Brita filter and drop a lemon in my water bottle. I savor my 10 A.M. snack of organic raw cashews. My solid-food lunches—lamb chops, organic chicken, grilled halibut, balsamic reductions—are the highlight. At dinner, instead of a smoothie, I opt for Junger's juice recipes. One night I feed two green apples, two fennel bulbs, and half a lemon into my Space Age juicer. That's it. At bedtime, I'm not hungry. The sudden toxin flushing Junger writes about seems to kick in; several nights I wake up at 4 A.M. and urinate for what seems like 11 straight minutes.

Week 4: Joining the Cult
METRICS: 135 lbs, 13.8% body fat, 1525 BMR, 17 metabolic age
THE PLAN: Same as weeks one and two.
DAY ONE: A month ago, I was a withdrawal-wracked liability to my co-workers. Now I am a liability to my wife. In social situations, I blather on about the cleanse like an infomercial pitchman. I have joined the Clean People. The only difficult thing now is the anxiety I feel about it coming to an end. For 36 years, I've been an active, healthy person who never paid any attention to food. Shifting that focus has changed everything. I have sustained energy throughout the day. I'm less moody. I sleep when I close my eyes and wake up when I open them. A friend—a guy, no less—tells me my skin looks good. One morning, I put my daughter in the car before school but realize I've forgotten her lunch. I sprint up the stairs to the front door, snatch the lunch bag, and sprint back down, three stairs at a time. This is how I used to move—when I was in high school.

Epilogue: Staying Clean
METRICS (one month after completion): 37 lbs, 13.4% body fat, 1525 BMR, 17 metabolic age
DESCRIPTION: Junger advises reintroducing elimination foods one at a time to see how your body reacts and what you want to continue abstaining from. Beyond that, he stresses, how much you want to stick with the principles is an individual choice.
DAY ONE: I fail miserably at the reintroduction. My celebratory finish-line meal is fish tacos and several beers. Next day—burp—I don't feel so hot. Since then, to my great surprise, I've been nearly fanatical about continuing the principles. I still have a smoothie every morning for breakfast. I'm 90 percent gluten-, refined-sugar-, and dairy-free. I don't drink coffee. I regularly eat salad for lunch. Wine is reserved mostly for the weekend. I don't touch my daughter's Halloween candy. I feel better than I have in years. Completing the cleanse redefines the meaning of willpower. It doesn't feel like deprivation anymore. Or, as Junger puts it, "Nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels."

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